Rio Verde, AZ 85263
About Community Church of the Verdes
Our faith is summarized in the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit; born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion on saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
8:30 a.m. Sundays
The Community Church of the Verdes is committed to sharing the gifts which have been given to us with those beyond the walls of our building and our local community. To that end, we support a number of agencies each year (with a special emphasis on supporting children and families) and invite those agencies to join us in worship to share information about their work. We also join with the wider community each year to support a Habitat for Humanity building program, which was initiated by our church more than a decade ago and has the distinction of being one of the longest continuing Habitat programs in America.
Stephen Ministry; Alcoholics Anonymous; The Pad Project; Parents of Addicted Loved Ones. We also have a vibrant educational ministry which includes classes, Bible study and lectures. We also have a vibrant music ministry with a choir and a bell choir.
(Scroll to the bottom to read the latest entry.)
I am the Rev. Dr. Cathy Northrup, Pastor of Community Church of the Verdes, and I am just beginning this blog. I hope to contribute to it each week. Let me be clear about its purpose: it is not necessarily an informational site---for that, go to our website at www.verdefaith.org. The blog is a more personal site in a kind of conversational style. I hope you will read it, be provoked to reflection or action, and maybe even engage with me through my email, which can also be found on the church's website.
I thought I would reflect today on my schedule. A lot of people ask me what a pastor does all day, all week, with the kidding remark that we pastors "only work 20 minutes on Sunday." Well, my schedule includes visits with members and non-members, in my office or at their homes or in the hospital; meetings with committees and our Board; planning and preparation for worship with our Music Director; Bible study; writing sermons and liturgy, and of course so much more. I love the variety of my days and the interaction with people. It is good to try to help people see God working in their lives and think about how they might respond to God's call to them in their lives in various situations. I love what I do here in the Verdes, a more "hands on" kind of ministry rather than simply managing staff, etc.
This weekend, I also have the responsibility to lead a memorial service for a church member and dear friend. We will celebrate his life, mourn his loss, and witness to the promise of the resurrection. I will try to blend the person and the scripture in my remarks as we do so.
I have also begun writing a column for the Fountain Hills Times that will appear every other week. It shares the good news of the Bible in a way I hope will draw people in, and encourage them to read the Bible and attend a church that reads it. There are a number of such churches in Fountain Hills, and I am blessed to know their pastors through the FH Christian Ministerial Alliance, a special group of Christian leaders who meet monthly and keep connected and active throughout the year.
A couple of other interesting things happening......we are so glad to see organizations in our area fighting against human trafficking, as we had a lecturer here on that subject last year as well as giving some of our Endowment Fund draw to battle it; we are also glad to be newly involved with Justa Center, a center that works with homeless folks 55+ in Phoenix. The need is great, and the work goes on.
Talk with you next week. Be salt and light for God.
Grace and peace,
This past Sunday, I was busy here with worship and a memorial service so I missed a prayer walk in Fountain Hills with other ministers and Christians. The walk was to express our heartbreak at the laws which allow abortion up to, and now according to Virginia's Governor Northam, after the moment of birth, which is really infanticide. I am not getting political here; I am simply saying this kind of law is a tragedy.
But I don't want to stop there. If we are against abortion, we have a duty to do what we can to promote raising children in challenging circumstances, adoption, and other issues that support life.
That is my pondering for this week, but I also want to add something else. I invite you all to our worship service each Sunday at 8:30 am. This week, we will look at Sarai and her pregnant slave Hagar to see how God supports life, even in challenging circumstances. Also, each week we have wonderful and unique Bible studies. I lead one on at the church on Wednesday morning at 9, our Parish Associate leads one at the church on Tuesday mornings at 8 and Thursday afternoons at 4, and Ed Carpenter leads one for men on Thursday mornings at 7:30 at the Rio Verde Community Center. Come join us.
Grace and peace,
I went to see my neurologist yesterday after a recent health incident, and I smiled when I noticed his coffee cup. It said "Please do not confuse your Google search with my medical degree." I joked with him about it, because so many people go to the internet to look up their diagnoses and diseases and come up with all kinds of errant information.
The same, I think, is true for many things in life. We look at the internet as the source of all knowledge, and while it can be a very helpful tool, it's not perfect, it doesn't exercise judgment and maturity and discretion, and as with statistics, you can often find whatever you want to support whatever theory you want.
Do you want answers to the true questions and issues of life, or do you at least want to journey with people who are seeking those answers in God and his Word? Come join us at Community Church of the Verdes, for worship, study, mission, education, fellowship, service and more.
Grace and peace,
We had a speaker yesterday in our lecture series, Kenda Dean from Princeton Seminary. She spoke about what is alternatively called "delayed adulthood" or "prolonged adolescence." She talked about the importance of coming alongside young adults (18-34) where they are, acknowledging their gifts, and bringing them together for a purpose and for community.
I think that is something we can also do with younger "older adults" who are moving into our community who aren't churchgoers and have no experience with church. I hope we will think about that as a church as new folks come into our community. We value the church as Christians, but we also have to get out of it to be Christians and meet people where they are.
On another note, this Sunday I am concluding my sermon series on Sarah. We are looking at Genesis 23, where Sarah dies and a lot is made of where she is buried. That is because it is important that she is buried in the "promised" land, what will truly become known as The Promised Land, and that Abraham buys the cave and field so it is his. I was privileged to see this area on a 2013 trip to Israel. Hebron is not a place most folks can go. Over the cave is an Islamic mosque, and it was the site of some violence by an Israeli against Muslims at worship, so there is now tight security there from Israel. We (our group with some members of my church) were allowed to go there, and had to remove our shoes and wear a large covering, not quite a burka, and we saw the tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. What a powerful experience! Now we have the promise given to Abraham and Sarah fulfilled through Jesus Christ. What a powerful gift! Come hear more about this on Sunday at 8:30 in our worship service.
Grace and peace,
Today is Ash Wednesday, the day we begin the season of Lent. Our church will mark this day with a 3 p.m. service in which we are marked by ashes, the traditional Biblical symbol of repentance. To repent means, literally, to turn around, to turn away from sin and turn to Jesus Christ. He forgives us of our sin, and his Spirit empowers us to do good, especially to love God and love neighbor.
If we say we are Christians, are we witnesses to Christ? That is, do people see us loving God and neighbor? Do we act any differently than those who are not Christians? It has been said that a good example is the best sermon.
Think about that as you live your life today and every day. To whom or to what do you witness?
Come join us for our worship services during Lent on Sunday mornings at 8:30. Also, join us for our Maundy Thursday service at 7 and our Good Friday service at 3. On Palm Sunday, we will present a cantata written by me and our Director of Music, Tom Wojtas, and narrated by Tricia Wolber.
Grace and peace,
I am feeling a bit sad today, as our community and church have had so much serious illness this past week. I am thinking of a dear man who has a brain tumor, a friend who just had triple bypass, a fun guy who had a massive stroke, and another friend whose heart is deteriorating. I hate to see people in pain and suffering. I know God is with us, and we can learn in these processes, but I still hate it. I know dying is part of living, but I wish it didn't involve suffering for so many people. I know people are more prone to health issues as they age, but again, it can be hard to bear for those who love them. But we can love them, be with them, and pray for them.
I look forward to the life to come, and I think of that song "I Can Only Imagine." We saw the movie that tells the true story of the song's writing, and it was powerful. In the life to come, there will be no suffering, for tears and pain and sadness will be no more. This is such good news, just as the gospel is good news for us now and gives us abundant life.
So....tomorrow is a new day, and I have been renewed today by the beautiful warm sun, and the grace of the wonderful Son. I am grateful to be able to lead worship tomorrow with a church and community who stand together in joy and in sorrow, and we will strengthen each other by our fellowship. Come join us any Sunday. You will be welcomed and loved.
Grace and peace,
The news has been all abuzz around the college scandal. It was discovered that wealthy parents had paid to get their children admitted to certain schools, and the dishonesty involved college admission folks, college coaches, and others. The parents wanted to make sure their children got in the "right" schools no matter the cost or moral issues. And some of the children didn't even really want to go to college to learn---they went to "party" and to do such things as keep their Instagram account current!
This is so sad. It seems to be an extension of the "helicopter parent" that developed in the last few decades, parents who can't leave their children alone to learn the lessons of life and who hover over them and direct and "help" them in unhelpful ways. These parents also don't teach their children right and wrong, even such basics as the Ten Commandments. So the children learn from what their parents are doing, and the mistakes and sins pass on to the next generation.
I think here of some good Biblical lessons from Proverbs, verses that were often used at least in the past as confirmation verses, verses to guide children into adulthood when they become members of the church. My favorite is from Proverbs 3. Please read it below, and think about its importance.
In the meantime, you are always welcome at our church, and I hope it will be healing and refreshment for you.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8 It will be a healing for your flesh
and a refreshment for your body.
Grace and peace,
March 28, 2019
Well, I found out at least one person reads my blog, because that person offered a good suggestion! He said I should date each entry, just to give folks an idea when it was written. So I have, above.
As many know, I am preaching a sermon series on knowing Jesus through our senses, a topic helpfully suggested by Matt Skinner. As I prepared my sermon for this week, knowing Jesus through hearing his voice, I came upon another helpful word from Deborah Sunoo. In a sermon, she addressed coming to know Jesus, and then she shared something about knowing God, and something especially good for us to offer to people who want to know God, who ask "what is God like?" She answered, "Jesus is what God is like."
In my sermon Sunday, I am speaking about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. I have highlighted Sunoo's words below about Jesus as the shepherd. Read her words, reflect on them, and then know, that is what God is like, Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Grace and peace,
Jesus asks us,“Who do you say that I am?”
It turns out our answers really matter. Because a whole lot of people today – whether or not they’d ever consider themselves Christians –find themselves wondering about God. Even if they wouldn’t want anyone think them “religious,” they find themselves longing for a spiritual center of some kind. Some sort of grounding in a higher power or a greater purpose. Some sense of the divine. And answering the question “Who is Jesus?” can help us with that broader quest.
“What is God like? … Do you remember the time when there was a crowd gathered to hear Jesus and they were a long way from home and hungry, and Jesus fed them? That is what God is like. Do you remember when he took those little children on his lap and blessed them and talked to them and talked to their parents? That is what God is like. Do you remember when the leper came up to Jesus and said, “Please help me,” and he was made clean and healed? That is what God is like.
“Do you remember that time when Jesus was with the disciples and they were arguing about who was the chairman and who was the greatest? Jesus took a towel and a bowl of water, knelt down in front of them, and washed their feet. Do you remember that? That is what God is like.
“Do you remember when he took that old cross on his shoulder and started up the hill to Golgotha? That is what God is like.”
Can you imagine being trapped in complete darkness and then being given the gift of light? That light is what God is like. Can you imagine what it feels like to be a lost lamb, separated from its flock, terrified and alone, and then to be rescued by a good shepherd? That shepherd is what God is like. Can you imagine being ravenously hungry, starving even, and being given the gift of bread? That bread of life is what God is like.
April 4, 2019
Well, it has been an interesting few days. Such is the life of a minister. Last night, I went to our choir's spring party, at which they surprised our Music Director with an early 60th birthday party! What fun it was---at all the churches I have served, choirs always have the best parties! But next door, there was an emergency call to the home of a church member who had heart issues and died. She was a dear woman, well loved, with great faith, and she will be missed. So goes on life, life and death together.
Then, today, I met with some of our Board members and a new member to look forward to how we will continue growing as a congregation, in faith and witness, in spirituality and service, in attendance and numbers. We are pondering doing a survey to see why people do and don't come to our church, and to see what we can learn from that.
I also did some visiting, one man with a stroke in rehab and another on the edge of the next life, so again, on goes life, life and death together. I hold fast to the words at the end of the Presbyterian Brief Statement of Faith, "With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (See Romans 8 for the source.)
Finally, I put together a banner stand to hold our banner for Stephen Ministry, an important ministry in our congregation. This ministry matches trained Stephen Ministers for one on one confidential listening to folks going through times of difficulty. You can read about this on our church's website, www.verdefaith.org. Or, come meet some of the Stephen Leaders and Ministers in person by visiting our church one Sunday!
Grace and peace,
April 9, 2019
What fun we had here at the church last night! We hosted a bluegrass concert with Old Blue Band. It was free to the community, as we wanted to share the church and music with folks nearby and make them feel welcome here, as we all have been welcomed. The band played pure bluegrass, along with some gospel and waltzes and Christian music. You can find them on Facebook, and you can find them at porterbarnwood.com where they often have concerts. We hope to have them come see us again, and join us to lead the music in a summer worship service.
Speaking of music, we just this past week honored our Music Director Tom Wojtas for his 20 years of service here, first as an Organist, and then as Music Director. His long tenure has graced this church and helped see it through many transitions, as God's Spirit has held us together through time.
Even as we honor our history, I sense God's Spirit moving anew here in the church. We move forward as new things are happening and faith is growing. Come join us on this journey anytime!
Grace and peace,
April 16, 2019
Yesterday morning when I was working at my desk, a church member who will soon be traveling to France for a planned vacation called to alert me to the fire at Notre Dame. What a shock and what sadness. Notre Dame is such a beautiful church and so rich with history and symbolism. And how sad that this has happened over Holy Week.
As the spire on the steeple there fell, I thought of the hymn "Built on the Rock," especially its first line. The hymn's complete text is below. The text reminds us that the invisible church shall always prevail, as God shall, even though earthly churches may crumble over time or be destroyed. But the text also reminds us that the church is a special place to worship God.
I grieve for those who feel the damage at Notre Dame deeply in France. I am sure that the restoration will happen soon. And I am blessed that we here in the Verdes have such a beautiful sanctuary in which to worship and that we even have bells (a carillon) which ring at 8, 12, and 6. I am blessed, too, that we as a congregation are God's house of living stones, and I pray that we will always live that out. I hope you will come join us for worship this Holy Week on Maundy Thursday at 7 pm, Good Friday at 3, and Easter Sunday at 8:30 (or at the sunrise service in the garden at 6:30).
Grace and peace,
1 Built on the Rock, the church shall stand
even when steeples are falling;
Christ builds His church in ev'ry land;
bells still are chiming and calling,
calling the young and old to rest,
calling the souls of those distressed,
longing for life everlasting.
2 Not in a temple made with hands
God the Almighty is dwelling;
high in the heav'ns His temple stands,
all earthly temples excelling.
Yet He who dwells in heaven above
chooses to live with us in love,
making our body His temple.
3 We are God's house of living stones,
built for His own habitation;
He fills our hearts, His humble thrones,
granting us life and salvation.
Yet to the place, an earthly frame,
we come with thanks to praise His name;
God grants His people true blessing.
4 Thro' all the passing years, O Lord,
grant that, when church bells are ringing,
many may come to hear God's Word
where He the promise is bringing:
"I know My own, My own know Me,
you, not the world, My face shall see;
My peace I leave with you. Amen."
April 25, 2019
I am reflecting today on yet another sad piece of news: the terrorist killings at Christian churches in Sri Lanka. How horrible. Evil certainly exists. Yet God exists, too. In my weekly Bible study, we listened to the story of a man in Africa who was part of a terrorist gang. He was getting ready to blow up a group of Christians worshiping under a large tent when the word of God penetrated his heart, and he felt God's love and repented of his sins. The bombing did not happen, and this man is now a pastor. You can read his story in Out of the Black Shadows.
We know that God has defeated ultimately defeated evil in Jesus' death and resurrection, but we still have to face it today. It can be "out there," such as in the Sri Lankan attacks, or "in there," in our hearts. There are glimpses of God's kingdom when such evil is defeated. Let us open our eyes to such moments, pray for them, and work for them in our lives.
Along with evil, there is also pain when we lose someone we love. We know that death has ultimately been defeated, but we still have to face it now, too. Yet we as Christians can work to provide glimpses of God's goodness, and his kingdom, in the midst of such pain. Our church has Stephen Ministers who do this. These are men and women trained to provide weekly one on one confidential listening to walk with people through the journey of pain or loss or challenge, often when they lose a spouse or child. Our Stephen Ministers aren't always used by people, however, for they feel they should be able to handle pain on their own. Yet, whether they are called on or not, our Stephen Ministers are ready to serve. One of our Stephen Leaders recently compared them to firefighters, who are trained and ready to serve, but are not always called on, yet stay ready.
Friends, remember that God is good and has defeated the power of evil, sin, and death. Because of this, we trust in him and press on in life. I pray that you feel this way, too. But if you are not sure of this (or even if you are!), I invite you to come join us on our journey of pressing on here at Community Church of the Verdes. The "season" for "snowbirds" in this area is ending, but many of us remain here all year, calling ourselves the "broilers," so come and join us!
Grace and peace,
May 5, 2019
I was graciously invited to play in a golf tournament Friday at Westin Kierland, a tournament benefiting Folds of Honor, an organization that supports and provides scholarships to families of military persons killed in conflict. (If you don't know the organization, google it to see their good work.) It was a meaningful day, and we were honored to meet veterans, see jumpers parachute in to our festivities, and hear a widow speak about what Folds of Honor has done for her and her family.
Then yesterday, I played in our community Cinco de Mayo tournament, just a fun tournament with silly holes which including putting a lime and putting in around a sombrero. I thought yesterday how blessed I am to be able to have time, after our busy season, to golf on beautiful courses in beautiful weather with good people in a country which so many have fought and died for. I also thought how blessed I am to be back to good health after some challenges this spring. I really do appreciate each day.
Today, I am just out of worship on this Lord's Day. We took part in communion after remembering God's promises fulfilled in Jesus. We also looked outward as we shared scholarships with young people at Sunshine Acres and NPH (formerly Friends of the Orphans), and as we celebrated the Pad Project which helps young women in countries in Africa get an education.
I pray we all can appreciate each day. Thanks be to God for this beautiful day!
Grace and peace,
May 15, 2019
I staff our Stephen Ministry Group, and yesterday, I helped lead a Continuing Education session for the Stephen Ministers on using poetry for spiritual expression and growth for yourself and for your care receiver. We looked at what poetry is, people's experiences with it, and we tried writing some as well.
In college, I double majored in Religion and English, and my English major focus was in Creative Writing with an emphasis on poetry. So it was good to get back to poetry, and I shared the poem I wrote below. It allowed me to get out, think about, and process what I was feeling during a visit recently. Perhaps it will trigger something in you, perhaps even the impetus to read or write poetry yourself. To read, I recommend Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, and many more.....
Grace and peace,
a pastor visits
I was never very good
but I am most sorry now
I cannot understand
What you are saying
In this foreign tongue
You have developed
Into a far country
And returned to us
I can see in your eyes
And feel in your grip
That you have something to communicate
And I am most sorry now
I cannot understand
I can only listen
And tell you that I know
You want to tell me something
But I cannot understand
What it is
So I must be content
To connect with you
And then we pray
To connect with God
Who having been in that far country
Knows what you are saying
And knows of my sorrow
And gathers it all in
May 22, 2019
I have always experienced, as every leader does, the challenges of leadership. While the Christian ministry is unique, it also shares the challenge of "self-differentiation," as Edwin Friedman, a systems theorist, puts it. One must be whole and have integrity, and respond to others, but in the end, no leader can please everyone, and if a leader tries, they please no one.
As a minister, I often feel great love and probably sometimes undeserved praise from some people, I know that. I am blessed. And this church in particular is a great and loving community; I invite anyone to join us!
But there are times ministers, and I as a minister, feel criticism of those outside and inside the church. Sometimes this is deserved--I am not perfect, certainly, professionally or personally---but other times it is simply someone angry for some other reason. The church is not immune from this. As someone once wrote, in the church, I have seen the best of people and the worst of people. I try to work toward the health in the system, not the dis-ease.
At those times, I turn to God, who gives the peace that passes all understanding.
I also remember the quote from Teddy Roosevelt below.
Grace and peace,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
May 29, 2019
I was shocked this weekend to receive the news of the death in a car accident of Rio Verde Deputy Fire Chief Eric Merrill, who had just retired two weeks ago. It was so sad to think of him not being able to enjoy a long and happy retirement after a lifetime of service. I have been so proud of the Rio Verde Fire District firefighters who have banded together to support Eric's family and one another in this time. I was also moved today by FH Times reporter Bob Burn's opinion piece about Eric. Please read it if you have not.
I am at a loss for words in this matter. All I can do is quote scripture for Eric, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of thy Master."
Grace and peace,
June 6, 2019
My husband Michael, who is the Parish Associate at our church, is a great reader of the Bible. He leads great Bible studies as well. Many people love these studies and find them greatly enriching for their faith and life. All are welcome. During the season, he leads two classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays; in the summer, his class is held only on Thursdays.
While many people love Bible study, others aren't quite sure. They are a bit hesitant to attend. Will they be called upon? Will they look stupid? Was is the point of learning the Bible anyway? There are many ways I could respond to this, but I recently came across a quote which answers the question of Bible study in a quite profound way. I found the quote in Timothy Smith's new devotional This I Know...The Bible Tells Me So. Smith writes, "Quaker educator Parker Palmer tells a Hasidic tale in which a disciple asks his rabbi: 'Why does the Torah tell us to place the holy Word UPON your heart? Why does it not tell us to place the holy Word IN our hearts?' The rabbi explained: 'It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy Word IN our hearts. So we place them UPON our hearts. And there the Word stays until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall IN.'"
Grace and peace,
June 11, 2019
Since the 100+ degrees have started, it is nice to look at someplace with lots of greenery and water. Hence, I was pleased to be sent the little video and story below about the place in MN in which I grew up after my dad retired from the Army. My parents are long gone, but my sister still has a home there. Old Frontenac is still like it was then. Enjoy!
Grace and peace,
Even before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our City. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear tenor voice: 'Rags!' Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be crossed by such sweet music.
'Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!'
'Now this is a wonder,' I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city?
I followed him. My curiosity drove me. And I wasn't disappointed.
Soon the ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, signing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad X. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.
The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and Pampers.
'Give me your rag,' he said gently. 'and I'll give you another.'
He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.
Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then he began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear.
'This is a wonder,' I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from mystery.
'Rags! Rags! New Rags for old!"
In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.
Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart.
'Give me your rag,' he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, 'and I'll give you mine.'
The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood -- his own!
'Rags! Rags! I take old rags!' cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman.
The sun hurt both the sky, now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more to hurry.
'Are you going to work?' he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his head. The Ragman pressed him: 'Do you have a job?"
'Are you crazy?' sneered the other. He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket -- flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.
'So,' said the Ragman. 'Give me your jacket, and I'll give you mine.'
So much quiet authority in his voice!
The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman -- and I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman's arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put it on, he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.
'Go to work,' he said.
After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, an old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.
And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider's legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.
I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I need to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so. The little old Ragman -- he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And I waited to help him in what he did but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died. Oh how I cried to witness that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope -- because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died. I sobbed myself to sleep. I did not know -- how could I know? -- that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night too. But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence. Light -- pure, hard, demanding light -- slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow or age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness. Well, then I lowered my head and, trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, forI wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I need to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.
The little old Ragman -- he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And I waited to help him in what he did but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he sighed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died.
Oh how I cried to witness that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope -- because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died. I sobbed myself to sleep.
I did not know -- how could I know? -- that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night too.
But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence.
Light -- pure, hard, demanding light -- slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow or age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.
Well, then I lowered my head and, trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for
I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice: 'Dress me."
He dressed me. My Lord, he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, the Ragman, the Christ!
July 16, 2019
A number of years ago, I started something at the church called "Spiritual Themes in Literature." I pick a book for each month of the year, and folks are encouraged to read the book and reflect on its spiritual themes. In the summer, when I have more time, we take a Wednesday morning time once a month to discuss the book.
This month, the book is Still Life by Louise Penny. I came across Penny's books when I was introduced to them by a member of our church who is originally from Canada. She suggested I read a book of Penny's which was the mystery of a murder in a church in Quebec, and we were able to see the church when I visited there.
What occurred to me as I prepared for discussion on this book tomorrow (at 10 in our library; visitors are always welcome!), is that there are spiritual themes, even in mystery novels. Penny's book is rich with thoughtful themes on life and loss, good and evil, and more. All of this made me think---especially two quotes from the book. One was from W.H. Auden and speaks of evil as masking itself as the ordinary. Another is in the words of a counselor who speaks of people who lead "still lives," lives in which they refuse to change or move on. Read the book to find more!
And pay attention to what you read---look for what you might learn about God and spirituality everywhere!
Grace and peace,
July 23, 2019
Today would have been my mom's 95th birthday. She died years ago in an auto accident in MN. A pregnant nurse from the Mayo Clinic was behind her and stopped to be with her and called for help, but it was too late. My mom died. The next day, the nurse had a healthy baby. While we grieved Mom's death, the nurse's family celebrated new life.
Mom had a beautiful ring with her birthstone on it, surrounded by diamonds. Dad had given it to her for their 25th anniversary. Mom told me she wanted to have it years before she died. After enjoying it for years, I gave it to my niece, who also had a July birthday, when she got married several years ago. I know my mother would have wanted this.
So it is with life. Sadness and joy happen in an instant and change lives forever, and no matter what happens in our worlds, the world goes on. I remember working as a chaplain in a trauma hospital where I dealt with death daily, and I was always somehow shocked when I left each day and the traffic lights were still working. How dare they, I would think for a moment, before realizing this larger truth.
Thus we must live in each moment. Not FOR each moment, as a hedonist, but IN each moment, appreciating it and living it fully. This life is a gift of God, and in it, God is preparing us for the next life. So are we learning to love? Are we doing the good works which God has prepared for us before hand?
What are you doing this day in life? Are you complaining about the heat and humidity, or are you doing something positive for yourself or others? I have some things to work on today, even as I enjoy and appreciate each moment of life. I have been writing a sermon on "talking less and saying more," and I have, in a way, been preaching to myself about that. My Stephen Leader training and Stephen Ministry work has helped me to be a better listener, but I still talk a lot in my life. I could do less talking. (And as Edith Ann would say, "That's all I've got to say about that!")
Grace and peace,
August 1, 2019
One of my nephews and his wife in MN had their second baby yesterday. His name is Max; his older sister is Aria. The interesting news in our family about this is that, as my sister has said, "The Miller name lives on!" My dad was the only son of a Miller, and my brother is my dad's only son. My sister hyphenated her last name when she was married, so her son carries the Miller name, albeit with a hyphen. Due to health considerations, I have never had children; even so, they would not have carried the Miller name, but my married name. So little Max, my brother's grandson, continues the line........ It's a bit of family pride, I suppose.
My mother was big on genealogy, and she wrote several self-published "books" on the history of her family and my father's for my sister, brother, and I. After she died, my sister has taken up the mantle of family historian. She has made use of several genealogy websites, as well as her own blog, and she has taken a number of trips to research family history, including traipsing through graveyards. I am grateful for this information, but it doesn't define me or change me.
I notice that these days there is a lot of focus on genealogy, at least to the extent that people want to know their national, cultural, and ethnic heritage, which seems to give them identity. I am thinking of DNA tests like ancestry.com. There is interest and good to this, of course, but I wonder if it is not also related to the focus on identity politics. I am glad to know that from my dad's side I have Scottish and Irish and English roots, and from my mother's German and Norwegian, and that also makes for fun conversations. I'm glad to know that my dad was a Presbyterian from North Carolina and my mother a German from Minnesota; that, too, makes for fun conversations. I can look in a mirror and see that I am their daughter, with some physical similarities to both.
But, if I were asked about my identity, I wouldn't start with these things, nor would I start with my gender or sexual orientation or politics or anything else that seem to be the "determiners" today. I would say I am a beloved child of God, a sinner saved by grace, and then all the other multiple things that have gone into making me who I am, and what is making me what I am becoming.
Who are you? From where have you come, and where are you going? I pray the Holy Spirit is in you, making you even closer to be in the image of Christ, the goal of us all moving from justification, to sanctification, to glorification. If you want to learn more about this, and discuss it, come to Community Church of the Verdes, where beloved children of God, sinners saved by grace, gather for worship, service, fellowship, and education. Introduce yourself to me if you'd like, and we'll talk!
Grace and peace,
August 6, 2019
A member of the church who was suffering with Alzheimer's died early this morning. Alzheimer's is a terrible disease in which people seem to lose the one they love due to his/her loss of memory and even sometimes a change in personality. It always breaks my heart.
But I have been "heartened" by words shared with me early in my ministry by a professor at Davidson College in North Carolina. He said that in such a disease, we may seem lost to our friends and family, but we are never lost to God. Rather, we are slowly being received at the throne of grace until the time we are fully received there.
I love that phrase "slowly being received at the throne of grace." It doesn't change the situation, but it changes something about how I perceive it. It also may change the way I pray for the person......stay tuned for a blog post on prayer in such situations......
I'll be out of town next week, but will continue this when I return......
Grace and peace,
August 19, 2019
I promised in my last entry that I would write this week about prayer in difficult situations.
Let me first commend to your reading an article entitled "A Different Way To Pray" by Samuel Wells. Wells begins the article with a story about someone being asked to pray for the father of a friend, a man who has dementia. That person promises to pray, but then wonders, for what do I pray?
Wells presents the two conventional ways to pray: resurrection and incarnation. A prayer of resurrection is a prayer to restore the man to full life, mind, body, and spirit. A prayer of incarnation is to pray that the Holy Spirit be present with the man. It also calls for people to "companion" the man.
Wells then presents a third kind of prayer, a prayer of transfiguration. He suggests such a prayer would go like this: "God, in your son's transfiguration we see a whole reality within and beneath and beyond what we thought we understood; in their times of bewilderment and confusion, show my friend and her father your glory, that they may find a deeper truth to their life than they ever knew, make firmer friends than they ever had, discover reasons for living beyond what they'd ever imagined, and be folded into your grace like never before."
Another such a prayer would go like this: "Make this trial and tragedy, this problem and pain, a glimpse of your glory, a window into your world. Let me see your face, sense the mystery in all things and walk with angels and saints. Bring me closer to you in this crisis than I have been in calmer tines."
I hope these things enrich your prayer life. They have mine.
Grace and peace,
August 29, 2019
Tomorrow is my 59th birthday. I know that seems young for many people in this 55+ community, as we have many happy and healthy 80 and 90 year olds, and a woman who is 103! But as I think about it, I am overwhelmed by the years I have lived and by the grace I have received from God over the years in my life, "grace at every turn," as John Calvin, the leader of what became the Presbyterian tradition, put it. I am overwhelmed then, too, by the privilege and responsibility I feel to share the blessing of that grace with others.
One of the issues on my radar in that regard is the Justa Center, a center in downtown Phoenix that serves the 55+ homeless community. They have many services, but like all organizations who are doing best practices with homeless persons, they focus on "housing first," then surrounding the person housed with supportive services. Our mission focus as a church is Christian organizations which support families and children, but the connection between our prosperous 55+ community and this community seems important. What can we do for them in Christ's name, and what can we learn from them? We have given them money from our Endowment Fund draw and we make sandwiches once a month, and this month, we have done a supply drive for them. I am thinking we can do more, something bigger. If members here also sense this call from God, I hope we can work together to do something, to pass on the "grace at every turn."
I hope if this touches you, you will come and join us here at Community Church of the Verdes for worship and the service it inspires!
Grace and peace,
September 4, 2019
I arose early this morning to go to Labcorp to get a regular fasting blood test done. Because it is not "the season" yet, it was not busy, and also, the office I go to has added a new staff member in training. She kept apologizing for her slow speed in entering my information into the computer, as she was just learning how to do it. I was in no rush this morning (except I was ready to have a cup of coffee and eat breakfast!), so I told her not to worry, to take her time, and she was doing fine.
We have all been "trainees" on new jobs at one time or another. There is a learning curve, and we need a bit of patience. In a sense, we are all still learning how to be Christians, how to be more Christlike, as we allow ourselves to be transformed by His Spirit and our work more and more into His image.
I will be preaching on that topic this Sunday, so come and join us here as "trainees" working together at this. The joy is that God gives us grace, love, and patience, and I pray we all do that with each other as well.
Grace and peace,
September 12, 2019
I could hardly believe yesterday when I heard the news announce that it has been 18 years since the 9/11 tragedy! Eighteen years!
I remember that day clearly. I was at home in Charlotte, NC, as I was ill, and my husband came to tell me to turn the television on. At that moment, a plane crashed into one of the towers. It only got worse from there. I was frightened; what was going on? Our country was under attack!
I remember New Yorkers speaking on television about what a beautiful fall day it was that day. The sky was a perfect blue. And into that came evil.
Regarding the perfect day that September 11, 20001, and the perfect day we had here in Rio Verde on September 11, 2019, with fall beginning, I thought of some lines from an e e cummings poem:
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
And then I saw the horror that followed--the smoke, the ash, the people falling, the people running, the imploding buildings. It was simply awful. We are still dealing with that, the deaths, the suicides, the illnesses and cancer, the wars, the terrorism, the fear. airport security....
So many people contacted me that week in 2001 trying to understand what had happened. I think for many, they had to deal with the reality of evil. Education doesn't fix it; human progress is not always forward and upward; there is good and evil.
Others asked why God would let this happen. I talked with them about the truth of free will that God gave us, and people make choices that have consequences. We live in a fallen world of fallen people. Bad things happen. This is not heaven. But God still loves us.
Do you know the story in the beginning of the Bible about what happened when God gave humanity free will? They chose not to live in relationship with God, but to go their on way. Read Genesis, and see what happened. If you don't have a Bible, contact me, and I will get you one, at no cost and with no strings attached. Email me at email@example.com.
Grace and peace,
September 19, 2019
Pay attention to the nudges of the Spirit.
I was thinking this morning of a couple in this church who I had not seen for some time. I wondered. So I called them, and the woman of the couple answered the phone. After I told her who it was, she said, "Omigosh. I have goosebumps. I was just thinking of calling you." It turns out they had been dealing with healthy issues with her husband this summer, and he had just moved to an assisted living facility. I will visit him this afternoon.
I trust those "nudges" or "stirrings" of the Spirit. I hope you will, too.
This week, in my Sunday sermon, I will be going through the Ignatian Examen, a devotional practice of going through your day at the end of the day, and asking, "What was the Holy Spirit up to in my life today, and did I pay attention?" Come join us for worship at 8:30 am on Sunday.
Grace and peace,
September 24, 2019
Well, I guess fall is here! Yesterday was quite a weather day here and in Fountain Hills and in Scottsdale. I was out "in it," as they say, for a time, and it felt like I drove through four different weather systems---pouring rain, beautiful sunshine, dark clouds, and wind and tornadoes. Yes, I was careful out there; as the meteorologists say, "Turn around, don't drown" and "When the thunder roars, stay indoors." But wow!
Our poor dog is a mix of whippet, pit bull, and lab, and her whippet self is timid; she is so scared of wind and storms, and she cannot be consoled. It may be a stretch, but it always calls to mind, "Rachel cries for her children, and she cannot be consoled."
What frightens you? Over what cannot you be consoled?
In what or in whom do you find consolation?
I have found consolation in my parents as a child, but as an adult, I have found that consolation in God.
I am beginning a new sermon series about reflections on the ocean, and this came to me today. I think of God at the ocean, when I watch the waves coming in and going out, their constancy and steadiness reminding me of God. God's love for me never fails and God is faithful, and that consoles me in challenging times.
Come join us at church to hear about this faithful God!
Grace and peace,
October 3, 2019
I had lunch today in Fountain Hills with a friend who has come back from being in the Midwest for the summer. We talked about how God places people in our lives for a reason, and how God uses us and other people to do his will. It was amazing to reflect on a summer of "God-incidences"' for her and for me, rather than simply "co-incidences."
I invite you to pay attention to the people God places in front of you in your life. Also, pay attention to how God might be using you to do his will, or perhaps to reach another person for him. You won't have to look long or far. God is always at work!
Come join us as we worship this God on Sunday mornings at 8:30 am!
Grace and peace,
October 13, 2019
It is Sunday, the end of a full week, and the beginning of another. I guess you could look at Sundays in one of two ways. Either it is, as a colleague of mine once said, "the relentless return of the Sabbath," or another great opportunity to lead the worship of God. On the first view, my colleague said this because no matter how meaningful a Sunday worship service and sermon are, you still have to start preparing another the minute you are done! On the second view, we as ministers are privileged to be involved in this wonderful thing called leading worship each week.
I choose the second view, and I already look forward to preparing the final sermon in this sermon series "Reflections on the Ocean." We have looked at what reveals to us in the general revelation of creation, and the special revelation of the Bible, through waves, wind, and sand. This coming week we will look at the sky.
Our choir will be back this coming Sunday, too. In the summer, we have a great trio to share music with us, but there is something about a full robed choir singing beautiful choral music that still stirs my heart.
I pray you will come and join us this Sunday, or any Sunday, upcoming.
Grace and peace,
October 16, 2019
Haddon Robinson tells this story. "A man came to church one Sunday and the only person who was there, besides himself, was the preacher. The preacher was hesitant to preach his sermon to one man sitting in the front row, but the man said, 'Look, I came to church and I expect that you preach. I need to be fed.' So the preacher got up and preached his sermon and he got caught up in the moment.
When he was through and on the way out, he stood at the door. This one listener shook his hand and said, 'That was good, preacher. But I was the only person there and I want you to know if I have one cow, I don’t give them the whole load of hay.'
I thought of this story because I am wondering how many people out there might be reading this blog. I hope it is quite a few, but I know only of a few. So if you are out there, let me know. I would love to have conversation with you and make this blog more interactive. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Grace and peace,
November 11, 2019
I haven't added to the blog for a few weeks, and for that, I apologize. Honestly, I had become a bit discouraged because it appeared no one was reading it, but I have learned that some do, so I am back!
Today is Veterans' Day, the day we remember and honor our veterans, and we also seek the things that make for peace. I am so grateful to our veterans.
We recognized our veterans, and veterans' families, in worship yesterday. We also saw a short video on "Taps." It touched me, as we had just heard "Taps" play on Saturday as we begun a funeral. On that day, the two young men from the military who were present also folded the flag and presented it to the widow. I was impressed with their demeanor and precision.
Yesterday was a good Sunday, in the sense that it all seemed to "click"; the Holy Spirit was in it! The music was awesome, and the energy folks brought to worship was wonderful. It was also good to see so many people back for the season. Deborah Etcheson, our lector, did a great job of reading the Scripture, though it was short. I appreciated her clarity and emphasis to make the Scripture live.
I have been trying the narrative style of preaching for the last three weeks, and my final week on it, before heading into Thanksgiving and Christmas themes, is this week. Come join us for another special Sunday, at 8:30!
Grace and peace,